If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
—John 15:7-10, NIV, Jesus speaking.
Let us examine the short passage quoted from John. To me it says that if we love Jesus, we will stick with Him. If we stick with Him, we will hear what He tells us. If we love Him, stick with Him, and hear what He tells us, we will do what He says. Then we will receive everything we ask for in prayer.
Now some people think that the first sentence in this passage essentially amounts to God’s promise to act as some sort of Fairy Godmother and grant our every wish, as if somehow our pledge to Him or our faith in Him obligates Him to obey our whims. Clearly, this viewpoint is flawed! What if you ignorantly ask God for something harmful? Wouldn’t you prefer that He say ‘no’ in case like that? Then of course there are times when we do not receive what we asked for, at least not in the form and with the timing we demanded. There are people who explain this by saying that we didn’t believe enough, as if we were trying to work up enough ‘belief’ to fly with Peter Pan; as if the mere act of faith was magic enough to conjure up the things we desire—but doesn’t that theory make God into a mindless vending machine instead of a loving Father with a will of His own? Shall we pray “Thy will be done” or “Bippity boppity boo” ?
The answer is, I think, that Jesus is not revealing a mindless spiritual principle. We can build mechanisms that rely on gravity for their operation—for example a pendulum clock—but we cannot build a machine that uses a faith principle. (Those who have tried have wound up in jail for fraud.)
The reason why you can’t make a machine based on a faith principle is that Jesus is revealing a relationship with a person, not a principle for manipulating objects. If we love Him, and stick by His side; if we listen to His words and seek to follow them in our lives; we will find ourselves in agreement with Him and in submission to His will. That means that we will ask for different things than we would have with our carnal minds, and our petitions, being conformed to His will and His words, will be granted.
People who love Jesus will receive all things. Of course, in loving Jesus, their definition of ‘all things’ will be transformed. People who desire all things won’t love Jesus and will lose whatever they have already.
Do you have a plan for losing weight? Do you have a plan for regular exercise? Do you have a plan for getting a raise? Do you have a plan for your retirement? Do you have a plan for buying your next house? Do you have a plan for paying for your children’s education?
Then why don’t you have a plan for obeying Jesus’ commandments? A plan for how much of what kind of fruit you shall bear?
I can see you shrink in horror! Some things are too holy to be handled that way, you say. But in reality, if you had a plan you would be able to measure your obedience, and then you would find out just how good a Christian you really are. Then you would have a daily walk of repentance, faith, trust, and obedience. This might even lead to a hot and heavy relationship with God! Yes, I agree with you, this is a dangerous idea.
Jesus is chock-full of suggestions for things to do: you can preach the gospel, heal the sick, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, and clothe the naked… How about thinking of ways you can start developing the right habits in everyday life? Jesus says, whoever is faithful in little things will be faithful in great things, so find some little things that aren’t hard to do, and practice faithfulness in them. Maybe Jesus is right and it will carry over into your whole character.
Here are some little things you can start with. You might be able to come up with better ones for your particular situation:
- Every time you make a purchase, make a habit of placing all the loose change in the bottle for charity that’s usually standing there.
- If someone asks to borrow something small and inconsequential, make it a gift.
- Buy a supply of inexpensive Bibles in a clear, modern translation. Give them as gifts to strangers when the situation arises. For example, what better way to welcome a first-timer to church? Or do you know a beginning Christian at work who could use a desk Bible?
- Make a rule that if you find something small but good that you can do for someone, you do it, quietly and anonymously, if possible. For example, if no one is in the restroom, wipe up the water off the counter. Or if you see an inexpensive item that someone wants, purchase it and give it to them anonymously.
You can think of a few more things. Once you get started with these things that have no impact on your daily life, your walk with God will deepen and increase. Then you can tackle greater things like dishing out meals at the homeless shelter or reading out loud to patients in a hospice for the terminally ill.
Every day and every situation presents you with a way in which you can abide in Jesus by hearing His words and carrying out His commandments. Live as though He were looking over your shoulder.
I am not speaking from a vacuum here. The last time that life was very rough for me, I adopted a discipline of little things. I was unemployed, I lived in a neighborhood with a severe vandalism problem, and I lived alone. I was in constant distress, and I didn’t have enough food. I attended church, but I wasn’t a member. I must admit that I didn’t do a very good job of it, and I haven’t progressed very far, but at least I tried. Jesus rewarded my intentions and my efforts, and not my results. Later, I could only say that I am extremely content with my life. I have good friends and neighbors, too much food, no worries about crime, the friendship of my pastor and the trust of my congregation—and that has motivated me to love Jesus even more and to seek even more ways to perfect my service to Him. He has quite literally supplied me with everything I desired. Of course, over the years, He has changed my desires as well.
Now that times are hard for me again, I’ll do it all over again. It worked before, I’m confident it will work again.
Let none of us who have enlisted in the Army of the Lord be found to have been motivated only by the medical benefits or the retirement plan! Let us not be mercenaries, interested only in our pay; let us be partisans for His cause and deprecate our paychecks. Then we will truly love Him, and He will abide in us, and we will obey His commandments, and He will supply our every need.